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How To Identify Birds In Your Images | Wildlife Photography Tips-n-Tricks

By Anthony Thurston on January 31st 2014

It should be no surprise that if you are just getting started doing wildlife photography, or photographing birds specifically, that you may not know all of the species that you are capturing. Even an avid bird photographer sometimes needs help identifying birds that they have captured in an image.


If you post your images online, either on your own website or an image hosting community such as 500px or Flickr, then it is important to be able to tag your images with the species name. This is so that people searching for images of that bird will be able to come across your images. This is especially important for SEO purposes if you are posting to your own website.

So, how are you supposed to identify these birds? It is actually a lot easier than it used to be. In the past, you had to find a bird species book and hope that after turning pages and pages of the wrong bird that eventually you could find the right one. Luckily, in this Internet age it is not nearly that difficult.

The What Bird “Bird Expert”


What I use when trying to identify a bird is this great website called WhatBird and their “Bird Expert.” It is super simple and really easy to use, in fact my 5 year old son uses this to help me, so you should be able to pick it up in no time.

You have three different ways to try and identify the bird in your image. You can choose the Body, Head, or Flight of the bird. I usually just use the “Body” option as I have had great results with that one.  Now, I will take you through the identification process, using the body option, so you can see how simple it is. Lets see if we can identify this bird:


(Canon 6D w/ Sigma 150-500 F/5-6.3 @ 500mm,  1/250th, ISO 1600, F/6.3)

First you choose the location of the bird, in my case Oregon.


Then you select the body type of the bird, in the case of our bird, I would say it most closely resembles the “Perching-like” shape.


After selecting the bird’s body shape, you need to tell the “expert” what color the bird is. In our case, I would say this bird falls into the “brown” color range.


Finally, we need to tell the system how big our bird is. This can be the tricky part because not everyone is a great judge of size over distance, but just give it your best guess. In this case, I would say that this bird falls into the “Very Small” category.


Now that we have entered in all of the questions to the best of our ability, the system has narrowed down the listing of birds to the most likely birds that we are looking to identify.

If you ask me, out of all the birds remaining, it is pretty obvious which bird it is that we are trying to identify. It is a Pacific Wren.


Once you see the bird in the listing, which you normally will unless you answered the questions incorrectly, you can click on it to learn more about it. If not, you can stop here, because you have identified the bird.


After looking at the information of this bird, I feel like we are definitely correct about the identification. This is without a doubt a Pacific Wren.


As you can see it was a really simple process which takes only a matter of minutes, in some cases, less than a minute. It is so easy that everyone of you should be doing it when uploading images of birds to the web, the benefits vs. time required is heavily in favor of the benefits. So, you have no excuse!

Bonus Test: Can You Name This Bird?


(Canon 6D w/ Sigma 150-500 F/5-6.3 @ 500mm,  1/500th, ISO 640, F/6.3)

Can you use the technique mentioned above to identify the bird? Just like the Pacific Wren, this bird was located in Oregon, and the rest of the questions you should be able to figure out on your own based on the image. Leave your answer in the comments below!

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Anthony Thurston is a photographer based in the Salem, Oregon area specializing in Boudoir. He recently started a new project, Fiercely Boudoir to help support the growing boudoir community. Find him over on Instagram. You may also connect with him via Email.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. RayS

    Great resource! Will definitely come in handy.

    How about insects? Do you know of a similar site I can use to identify them?

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  2. Mike

    It’s going to need more accurate input to prove useful. The algorith you have followed here is way off with the Id. It is very clearly a sparrow (beak alone suggests this) so other diagnostic features need to be entered to arrive at the correct id of Song Sparrow.

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    • Anthony Thurston

      Yes, I have already figured out where I erred in the identification process. I thought it was smaller than it actually was. Inputting the correct size provides you with a Song Sparrow as one of the possible birds. As I said above, any system that relies on human input is only as good as the information it is given. The error here was mine, not the sites.

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  3. Christopher Sears

    Mistake was in the sizing. Let’s just call it a LBJ (Little Brown Job) and move on.

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  4. Nate B

    Websites like this can help out but nothing can replace proper ID techniques and the time required to learn them, case in point is your bird is a Song Sparrow not a Wren.

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    • Anthony Thurston

      Yeah, I agree. There are certainly more accurate ways of doing this, though for someone like me who shoots birds as a hobby it provides a quick and easy way to get a bird identified and is surprisingly accurate.

      Ofcourse any system is only as good as the information it is given. In this case I would say you are right, it is the Song Sparrow and not the Wren – though they are very similar in appearance (the biggest feature difference being the beak). That was an error on my part, not the system.

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  5. Ricky

    Excellent work Anthony.

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  6. Nick

    I got Northern Shoveler. Although the image on the whatbird website shows it having a green head.

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    • Nick

      (also, the your image alt parameter in the img tag says “Northern-Shoveler-slrlounge”)


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    • Anthony Thurston

      Correct, Good Job! If you look at the head in the image you can see some green.

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